Opinion
Hanoi's finest park making a comeback while fighting the needle
  • | dtinews.vn | December 06, 2010 01:53 PM

Saturday afternoon in Hanoi offers many options. From cafes to walks around the city\'s most popular lakes, Hoan Kiem and West Lake, perhaps the finest forgotten gem of the city is making its comeback.

The sun goes down in the beautifully renovated Thong Nhat Park
An abundance of used needles lie just steps from where people play da cau

The former \'Lenin Park\', now renamed \'Reunification Park\' or \'Thong Nhat\' in Vietnamese, has undergone a major renovation. The park is beautiful. Six months ago, the park had scattered grass, inoperable entertainment rides, limited visitors, and an entirely empty lake.

Visiting again this past Saturday, eyes were opened to a whole new place. A vast park, perhaps Hanoi\'s finest and largest, is surprisingly under-promoted. It is rarely mentioned in guide books and hardly spoken of by locals when suggesting places to visit. The makeover has been remarkable and the place is wonderful way to spend a gorgeous day in Hanoi.

The grass is growing again, and stepping on it will result in many yells from the maintenance workers who are spending time and energy to bring the place back to its former glory.

Walking through the park, we decided to play da cau (similar to the western game of hacky sack only with a feathered "birdie"), a game we are horrific at and it was perhaps our third time trying. Within minutes, multiple Vietnamese youth asked to join and before you knew it, we had a full-fledged cultural experience happening. No communication, just a bunch of people uniting through a simple game in a beautiful place. As more people joined a small crowd gathered to watch and particularly laugh as one of my mates used his hands more than his feet.

Walkers, joggers, lovers and workers all smiled, paused, waved and it felt like a complete escape of Hanoi\'s madness that can sometimes consume the soul. I was marveled by the transformation of the lovely park and shocked at how few people were there to soak in the tranquility.

People waved, smiled, joined and enjoyed.

As the afternoon faded away, the cau (sort of a birdie used to play the game) landed in a pile of dirt near a tree where by now, seven or eight of us had gathered to play.

As I went to recover it, I saw the darker side of this beautiful park. In its months of rehabilitation, perhaps it became a sort of haven for a darker side of a place that offers escape. Perhaps it has long been a place for this darker side as parks often are. A place for people to consume without hassle. Needles abound, a countless amount, were scattered all over the place. It didn\'t come as a shock as parks throughout the world have often been a place for drug use. Most concerning was the amount of needles that were concentrated in such a specific area. For a child to stumble over could result in horrific results. The concentration made it seem that somebody could easily interrupt the activity that obviously takes place in that specific area, just metres from the lake.

Like many places, there are beautiful things that combine with the uglier side. Vietnam has an astonishing number of HIV/AIDS numbers as do several surrounding countries. Outside of Africa, Southeast Asia is the area of highest concern, and needles are one of the highest causes.

What was so astonishing is that, with children playing, all it would take is one fall and these needles could cause damage. As the sun went down, the view of the lake was beautiful and we sat, not far from the needles, to watch the sun go down. The reflection of the sunset had made me forget the sight of the needles. Shortly after, a man who was working in the park began yelling. Screaming. Waving his arms. He was angry. We thought it was quite an overreaction for somebody walking on the newly laid grass, then we realized, he was inflamed by an addict, clearly on drugs, and we understood. People are trying and the workers renovating the park take great pride in trying to make it clean. Cleaning up a place is no easy task, but this beautiful park is full of much more bliss than bust, and it is a reminder that while many are enjoying their days, living their lives and enjoying their time; the fight against abuse, drugs, awareness, poverty and HIV/AIDS is MUCH larger than just cleaning up a community.

Hanoi is no different than any other city in the world, it has the same positives and the same negatives.

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